After this cutting-edge fertility treatment received official approval in Ukraine, it's now the United Kingdom's turn to witness the birth of "three-parent babies" in the near future.
Newcastle University has been granted permission by UK regulators to perform this type of in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure, which uses DNA from three different people and is designed to help women with mitochondrial disease conceive healthy babies.
First 3-Parent Babies In The UK
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority publicly announced the decision on March 16, licensing the university to implement mitochondrial donation IVF techniques.
The first "miracle babies" conceived via this controversial method could be born by the end of the year or at the beginning of 2018.
The British Parliament legalized this procedure in 2015 and the HFEA approved its use in licensed cases a year later. Newcastle University is the first clinic to be granted a license for artificial fertilization through mitochondrial donation.
"Patients will now be able to apply individually to the HFEA to undergo mitochondrial donation treatment at Newcastle, which will be life-changing for them, as they seek to avoid passing on serious genetic diseases to future generations," said HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire.
The Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation supporting scientific and medical achievements, has long advocated for the approval of this technique. Foundation director Jeremy Farrar described HFEA's announcement as "a landmark day for people living with mitochondrial disease."
How The Technique Works
Mitochondrial disease is caused by defective mitochondria, microscopic structures that convert food into energy at a cellular level. This condition is comparably rare and affects 3,500 women in Britain at the most. The faulty mitochondria are genetically transmitted, making it impossible for women who have the disease to give birth to healthy babies.
In infants, the condition is often fatal. Some families have lost multiple children to this disease, which drains the body of the energy it requires to sustain the cardiac system. One in 4,300 children is born with severe symptoms, which lead to muscle weakness, blindness, deafness, seizures, learning disabilities, diabetes, and heart and liver failure.
Since only the mother can pass down mitochondrial disease, healthy mitochondria are provided via a donor egg. During this procedure, scientists harvest the nucleus and DNA from the mother's egg and implant it in the donor egg, which is then fertilized and implanted through IVF.
Because mitochondria have their own DNA, the resulting embryo has DNA from three people, but only the biological parents' genes can influence the baby's physical appearance and personality.
Professor Doug Turnbull, head of Newcastle's Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research, anticipates the university's clinic could help 25 couples every year.
"This will allow women with mitochondria DNA mutations the opportunity for more reproductive choice," he told BBC.
In the United States, this experimental technique was been successfully used more than 15 years ago. Tech Times reported last year the 17 children born as a result of mitochondrial donation are healthy and doing well.